Friends of the Howe House fear the historical home may be sold
The efforts that the Friends of the Howe House have been putting forth may come to an end as a potential offer to buy the house is currently under attorney review, the Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, senior co-minster at Unitarian Universalist Congregation and member of Friends of the Howe House, said in an email.
The Friends of the Howe House is a local organization that has been working to raise money to buy the historic James Howe House, which was once owned by Howe, who was a freed slave.
The house, now owned by Bob Van Dyke and occupied by renters, is listed for sale at a price of $379,000. Since October, the organization has held a rally and a benefit to inform residents of the historic home.
Sammler-Michael said on Nov.17, the organization received word that an offer had been made from an unknown individual to purchase the house. The following day, Friends of the Howe House submitted a counteroffer with a clause that promised they would pay up to $2,000 more than any other offers. Along with the offer, the group provided a letter as to why this home deserved to be preserved historically. An attempt was made to reach out to Van Dyke to purchase the home, the organization says, but he refused to speak with them directly and instead referred them to his lawyer.
Throughout their efforts to save the house, said Kimberly Latortue, a member of Friends of the Howe House, Van Dyke “hasn’t been very engaging.”
As Friends of the Howe House wait to hear whether their offer will be considered, they are not giving up hope on preserving this piece of local history. Frank Gerard Godlewski said they are working with the State of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection to obtain state and national Historic Register listings so the home can become recognized.
While working to get the house recognized, the group is also looking for any other potential buyers who believe in their mission to save the house. One family is offering to partner with another potential buyer to put in another offer. Sammler-Michael said, “It is my prayer that everyone who's involved in this real estate deal, will pause and consider how we could put principle over profit and do what is right with a home that deserves recognition and honor.”
The house was built by town founder and merchant Israel Crane around 1780, according to the Crane papers that can be found in archives of the Montclair History Center. Howe was the storyteller for the Crane family. He kept records and retold stories surrounding the family and now his story is at risk of being erased.
The preservation of the Howe House is not only important for the history of Montclair but show’s the impact that the African American community had and continues to have on Montclair.
Dionne Ford, member of the organization, said of the house, “It's an important symbol of our American story, it’s all here in this one little house.”
Ford continued: “Slavery has been so vital to this country's descendants. And we are all intertwined in that history. And so anybody who lives here should want to see that preserved. And it becomes a great place to be able to also educate ourselves and our children about our town's history, our state's history and our country's history.”
The Montclair Local reached out to Van Dyke’s lawyer and is awaiting a response.